Friday, July 25, 2008

A Not So Deadbeat Dad

Family seems to be a regular topic of conversation among friends and coworkers. I know I enjoy talking about my family, and others seem to as well. 

The other day, someone (I can't remember who at this point), was asking me for further detail about my parents' divorce. This person asked, "Did your dad stick around after the divorce?"

When my parents sat us down in their bedroom to tell us the news, I was a 12-year-old sixth grader, attending middle school in Eufaula, Alabama. My younger siblings Ben, Anna and Paul were 10, 7 and 5 years old, respectively.

Paul, the youngest, was the first one to respond. Not being able to grasp the gravity of it all, he pointed to an object in the room and asked, "So, who's going to get that lamp?"

I suppose that was the first of many unknowns. My parents said that when they married, they loved each other. They explained that they loved us and had no regrets about the 14 years of marriage behind them. That union produced four children who they loved and admired, my mother and father went on to share.

Up until that point, my mother had mostly been a stay at home mom, which was more work than it seems on the surface. She helped with classroom parties, carted us around to sports-related practices and games, helped with homework and was around when we needed her. My father was also rather involved in our lives, though his long commute to work at a paper mill proved difficult for as much quality time.

They seemed to have their minds made up. A marriage that worked for nearly a decade and a half was beyond revival. My mother moved to a small apartment, my father to a small home. They both needed to become comfortable with their new situations. We kids spent one week with one parent and the next with the other. At the time, I am sure I felt unsettled and tossed about. In retrospect, I don't think the arrangement could have been better. 

I didn't experience what other kids did. I didn't know that some children were dragged through the court system, being forced to testify for or against their parents. It was beyond me that some children had one of their parents, usually the father, walk out the door, never to return.  If the worst we endured was having to pack suitcases and remember to bring our toothbrush in the transition, we had it pretty well.

The years moved quickly. We grew up still as a family unit, but a less conventional one. When my mother decided to remarry a man in a larger city an hour away, my father committed to moving as well. After all, his commute would stay the same and we would have the added benefit of having both of our parents in the same town. My father eventually remarried as well. We eventually adopted a less tumultuous living arrangement, with my younger two siblings "living" with my mother, and Ben and me living with my father. Fairly "open door" policies allowed us to spend a great deal of time with each parent, no matter which we officially resided with.

I've come to appreciate my father even more than I did as a child. His analytical, reflective manner sometimes agitated me as a teenager. I was stubborn and so was he. I think we can relate better than we once could. I recall a conversation we had as I was graduating college. My father pulled me outside to speak one-on-one by the pool. He pulled out a piece of paper and went on to tell me how he'd made a list of the top 10 characteristics employers look for in potential employees -- and he went on to evaluate me (plus, minus or neutral) in each category with a paragraph on why he rated me the way he did.  I have come to appreciate this aspect of my father.

My mother and I still enjoy the same mother/daughter friendship that we've had for what feels like forever. 

Though none of us live in the same cities any longer, with my mother in Columbus (Georgia), me in Atlanta and my father in Raleigh, I still speak to both of them regularly. My father calls at least once a week when he "hasn't heard my voice in a few days." My mom and I catch up in between errands or when she comes into Atlanta to see me or visit friends or my other siblings. Our parents helped us through school (both monetarily and emotionally) have been wonderful counsel during relationship problems of our own. We, as a family, all partake in the same celebrations, whether they be birthdays, graduations, engagements -- or shortly -- marriages. 

So the answer is, "yes, my parents are both very much 'around.'" And for that, I commend them both.

One day, I would like to compile a book of essays written by the children of divorced parents. There are so many things that parents can learn from how we children were impacted. I realize that our situation was much better than most, though there were still challenges. 


moeko said...

oooh, i'll contribute to your book of essays :)

Dawn Gahan said...

Ya know, you really are an engaging writer. I've enjoyed this post particularly. I look forward to reading more.